Libyan Rebels Step Up Call For No-Fly Zone
ARI SHAPIRO, host:
And as Mara mentioned, the violence is not stopping in Libya. Forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi continue to batter antigovernment rebels. In the eastern city of Benghazi, those rebels are stepping up their calls for a no-fly zone. They hope that international pressure will help them overcome the severe military imbalance. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Benghazi.
PETER KENYON: Pro-Gadhafi forces have been pounding the largely civilian rebel force from the air with impunity for days, but a Libyan no-fly zone has yet to advance beyond the talking stages. Still, the rebel's provisional council believes that remains their best chance to recapture the initiative.
Council spokesman Abdul Hafiz Ghoga refused to criticize the slow pace of the discussions, saying even late approval of a no-fly zone would be better than none at all. He also called for more aggressive measures.
Mr. ABDUL HAFIZ GHOGA (Spokesman, Provisional Council) (Through Translator): We have requested all necessary steps to protect the Libyan people. We believe that the U.N. has the capability to do that. And one of the things we're demanding is the bombardment of Gadhafi's mercenaries and the camps of his security forces.
(Soundbite of chanting rebels)
KENYON: Outside the courthouse that serves as the rebel government's headquarters, men, women, and children could be heard chanting for the rebels' success and for the downfall of Gadhafi. There was little mention of the military defeats the young men were suffering at Ras Lanuf.
Some held signs reading: Merci, la France. They were thanking the French for recognizing the Provisional Council as Libya's government instead of the Gadhafi regime. For the rebels it was an important validation of their claim to be the true representative of the Libyan people.
Rebel government spokesman Mustafa al-Gheriani says this is critical, not only diplomatically but possibly economically, as well. He says the Provisional Government is respecting all commercial contracts signed with the Gadhafi government, but it has been looking for a way to demand that oil revenue now flowing to Tripoli be rerouted to Benghazi.
Mr. MUSTAFA AL-GHERIANI (Spokesman, Provisional Council): However, it was impossible to do so if you have a government not recognized by the world. Now, starting with France recognizing the National Council, we have people in the oil sector, as in the economic sector, that are working on this.
KENYON: Rebel officials say France was the icebreaker among European countries, and they're hoping more will follow suit quickly. But such diplomatic pressure may not amount to much if Gadhafi's military continues to launch artillery and rocket attacks against an untrained and underequipped rebel force.
As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she may meet next week with rebel government leaders, Gheriani said on the streets here there is severe disappointment with the U.S., for what's seen as a timid approach to supporting the rebels.
Mr. AL-GHERIANI: It's been an extremely negative response to that, because we expect America to do more. A lot of them understand that the U.S. is between a rock and a hard place. Also, U.S. is still supporting countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan that have corrupt governments. And the message that will come out of the U.S., if it supports the Libyan Revolution, it might be...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. AL-GHERIANI: ...a little bit iffy for their allies.
KENYON: As pro-Gadhafi forces began to consolidate their hold on Ras Lanuf, state television reported that the oil port had been purged of armed gangs, and that the army was now advancing toward Benghazi.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was preparing for the worst.
With the superior firepower of the pro-government forces clearly established, and the rest of the world debating the pros and cons of intervening, the situation for the rebels may be at the lowest point since the uprising began. But Gheriani, deeply entrenched in the effort to build a new government from scratch, insists that if more countries recognize the council, somehow things will work out.
Mr. AL-GHERIANI: Once that happens, I think there is nothing that we cannot do. We love this country and we will build this country very quickly. And I think we're going to have a great future.
Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Benghazi.
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